Would it not be a more productive use of an evening if the Macron Stadium played host to a rather large group counselling session on Tuesday?
For supporters of Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic have suffered more than any others in the Football League this season. One avoiding administration by the skin of their teeth, the other fighting to oust a regime that continues to damage their club. Relegation already confirmed for one, with the other set to have their fate sealed on Tuesday night.
Neither deserve to endure the depressing prospect of a game between the two sides. A game between two sides who realistically only have pride to play for, but have embarrassed themselves to such an extent that regaining any is practically impossible. Supporters having to endure too much for any sense of positivity to be taken regardless of the outcome of the game.
It will instead offer a reminder of the gruesome events of this campaign, and beyond, for the Trotters and the Addicks. Reflecting upon the crisis states and failure of both clubs unavoidable, increasing the sense of injustice that two previously well-respected clubs don’t deserve to have suffered to the extent they have, and doing nothing to ease concerns about what lies ahead.
Let’s hug this one out, yeah?
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-2 BOLTON WANDERERS
The fear that Charlton’s season would be ending in relegation increased emphatically as a gutless capitulation allowed bottom-of-the-table Bolton to fight back from two goals down at The Valley in December.
It appeared as if the Addicks would be recording the win they so desperately needed against their relegation rivals when they found themselves two in front with 26 minutes played. Ademola Lookman tapping in from close range to double the advantage he’d given to his side in the first minute of the game.
But the visitors were able to half the deficit just six minutes later. Liam Feeney’s delivery beating Harry Lennon and Alou Diarra in the centre, allowing Emile Heskey to steal in unchallenged at the far post and convert. The former England international scoring his first goal in just shy of a year.
Unable to compose themselves after conceding, Karel Fraeye’s side conceded an equaliser before the break. The ball popping out to Josh Vela on the edge of the box, and the youngster able to drive through a sea of red shirts and into the bottom corner via Stephen Henderson’s fingertips.
And though it was the Addicks who arguably created the best opening of the second half, with Lennon’s header bouncing up against the bar and away, Charlton remained organised and without genuine fight.
The draw, a result that Bolton’s fight in their own incredibly testing circumstances deserved, so demoralising and embarrassing that it felt like a fatal defeat.
With their financial and football struggles, Bolton’s relegation has been effectively unavoidable for just as long as Charlton’s has. That confirmation arrived following the defeat to Derby, a game without victory, on 9 April simply reaffirming the inevitable. The pain suffered throughout the season, and not simply on the day the drop became certain.
But the manner in which Bolton, under the stewardship of caretaker boss Jimmy Phillips following the dismissal of Neil Lennon, have performed in recent weeks isn’t exactly doing much to ease the pain.
With no win in 12 and six consecutive defeats, the Trotters, restricted by their limited resources and weak squad, have gone down without too much of a fight.
And even when they’ve managed to show a commendable degree of effort, there has been no reward. The lead taken against Middlesbrough on Saturday, before Jordan Rhodes’ stoppage-time winner meant the outcome was yet another glum day in this grim season.
Even more so than Addicks, supporters of Bolton can’t wait for this season to end.
And that’s that. The defeat to Derby on Saturday leaving the Addicks effectively 12 points from safety with four games to go. A highly unnecessary, and completely self-inflicted, relegation all but confirmed.
The results that have killed off any hope of Charlton avoiding a return to League One not necessarily self-inflicted. Though the response to the Rams taking the lead was poor, with a half-hearted effort to equalise, the period prior to conceding, which included a controversially disallowed goal, reflected the recent improvement in performances. The loss at QPR cruel, the draw with Ipswich frustrating.
But this slight upturn in the quality of displays not nearly enough to make the overall, relegation worthy efforts this season any less disgraceful. Not nearly enough to make the damage Roland Duchatelet has inflicted on the club any less serious.
And when relegation is confirmed at the Macron Stadium on Tuesday, it will be the reward that this regime deserves. Certainly not the one that the supporters of this club, continuing to mix diligent with passionate protests in the hope of protecting their club by removing the disease that engulfs it, deserves.
Bolton may use the fixture against Charlton to hand further opportunities to some of their young players, with caretaker boss Phillips challenging them to prove their future worth at the club.
Former Charlton players Lawrie Wilson and Dorian Dervite have failed to make the matchday squad in recent weeks, while Jay Spearing’s Bolton career is effectively over with a fee needing to be paid to Liverpool if he were to make another appearance, increasing the opportunities for academy graduates.
And with the almost relegated Addicks kinder opposition than Derby and Middlesbrough, who the Trotters have played in recent weeks, Phillips may test some of his younger players. Kaiyne Woolery, Tom Walker and Oscar Threlkeld could potentially be involved, along with the increasingly regular starter Niall Maher and talisman Zach Clough.
Elsewhere, Arsenal loanee Wellington Silva and former Sheffield Wednesday forward Gary Madine, absent in recent weeks with groin and hip injuries respectively, are likely to remain unavailable, while forward Max Clayton’s hamstring injury means he definitely won’t feature.
Charlton are likely to remain without Yaya Sanogo after the Arsenal loanee missed Saturday’s defeat to Derby with a hamstring injury.
That could cause an issue in attack for the Addicks should Igor Vetokele’s fitness struggles again prevent him from starting two games in four days. With a few more starts under his belt since the previous midweek fixture at Ipswich the Angolan might now be okay to play from the off, but Simon Makienok will come into the side if not.
Stephen Henderson is also likely to be absent from the matchday squad, having missed the weekend’s event in SE7 with another apparent injury.
KEY BATTLE – BEING BOTHERED IN A GAME THAT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER
Bolton will tell you they need to begin preparing for next season, and players need to prove their worth. Charlton will suggest that while their relegation is not mathematically confirmed, they must continue to attempt to avoid the drop. A professional footballer must be fully motivated and committed for every game, regardless of the circumstances.
But football doesn’t quite work like that. Professional footballers are not simply machines, unaffected by the context of a game. Motivation to perform in this encounter, with the Trotters already relegated and the Addicks set to join if not on Tuesday then very soon after, will need to be found from other sources.
Bolton have a losing record to end, have young players that will possess a desire to impress, and a need to reward the support of their supporters at the Macron. So too are they demoralised and deflated, and have their fair share of experienced Championship players who are unlikely to be at the club next season.
A problem for Charlton, too. Loan players, and those recruited by Duchatelet, who are unlikely to be here next season might well struggle to motivate themselves. Relegation being all but certain, and a certain amount of frustration in recent weeks, another demotivating factor.
But the Addicks have also showed plenty of effort in recent weeks, with homegrown talent and those recruited by this regime who have managed to develop some connection with the club and its supporters at the heart of it. Playing without full commitment not in the nature of Jordan Cousins and Alou Diarra, for example.
Neither of these sides can claim to possess a great deal of genuine quality, such are their positions in the league table, so it might well be mentality that splits the two.
We’ll probably sing some funny songs about being a bit rubbish at football together. Can’t wait. Bolton Wanderers 1-1 Charlton Athletic